Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Case for Moral Choices in Business

A lot of loud commentary on the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS case.  Generally boils down to "corporations shouldn't have the right to religious beliefs" and "employers don't have the right to tell women what to do".  Protestors are out in front of the Hobby Lobby stores, etc.

My take, if I am paying for it, then I have a say in what it is.  I don't have an issue with contraception but I am generally opposed to abortion, since you are talking about a human life there.  However, as a libertarian/anarchist I tend to lean towards the less government involvement the better.  I think that public sentiment against murdering very small children might be a good way to reduce abortions, but that seems to have gone away as well.  Maybe it will come back some day and that will be a good thing.  That is not, however, the point of this post.

Why shouldn't the people who run and own corporations have the right to a) hold religious beliefs and b) act on them?

Opponents of the HL decision would say that the government has an interest in forcing corporations to treat their employees in a certain way although I would argue that the government has no right forcing corporations to do anything.  However, the issue at hand here is if the government can force you to act against your beliefs.  Do your beliefs trump the governments "right" to interfere?  If your answer is no, then let me pose a question.

What about beliefs other than religious?  When I was in college South Africa was one of the big topics on campus.  Student groups were protesting regularly against corporations that invested in South Africa on the grounds that their investments were supporting the apartheid system that was then in place.  Many companies divested their holdings their during the late eighties and into the nineties. Would it have been reasonable for the government to have stepped in and required companies to invest or not invest in South Africa?  At what point is it acceptable for the government to make this type of decision for the shareholders versus allowing those with an actual stake in the company to make those decision?

A few theoreticals to send you on your way.  A company with a majority of Jewish stockholders chooses, at the behest of the stockholders, not to do business with a company that produces pork products.  A company with a majority of Muslim stockholders chooses, at the behest of the stockholders, not to do business with a liquor distribution company.  A company with a majority of Christian stockholders  chooses, at the behest of the stockholders, not to do business with a company that provides abortions.

I think that in all these cases and in many more, that if it is OK to choose with whom to do business based on secular moral objections, that it should also be OK to make those choices based on religious objections.  Either companies are beholden to the bottom line, morality be damned, or they have a responsibility to make choices that are best for society.  Once you concede that they can make their choices based on non-fiduciary reasons, why are religious reasons off the table but reasons based on other notions of morality are not?

Just a thought.  Completely leaving libertarian positions aside,  I'd love to hear your arguments for and against secular versus religious choices in business.

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